Land Management Agencies Fail to Protect Employees, GAO Finds

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) critiqued agencies on their failure to adequately secure personnel from violence and threats of violence. The report found that many of these assaults or threats came from those harboring anti-government views. GAO analyzed data and attacks from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Forest Service, National Park Service (NPS), and Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

The report outlined several instances in which anti-government actors violently attempted to use force against law enforcement personnel on federal lands. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed that while anti-government statements are not illegal, seeking to advance an anti-government ideology though force or violence is illegal.

The report found that a decline in law enforcement personnel in the agencies has made responding to incidents more difficult. Between FY 2013 and 2017, agencies saw law enforcement personnel numbers drop between 7 and 22 percent depending on the agency.

The GAO also examined requirements and policies in place within federal land management agencies to protect employees against threats and assaults.

The Interagency Security Committee (ISC) standards apply to all facilities in the United States occupied by federal employees for nonmilitary purposes, including federal land management agencies’ facilities. All facilities must also conduct security risk assessments.

Unfortunately, the GAO found that the four land management agencies had overwhelming not met the ISC standards and had not done security threat assessments. While the FWS has a plan to complete their assessments, the other three agencies do not.

The report also noted that many threats and assaults go unreported as employees in these agencies view the threats as a “part of the job” or “common occurrence.”

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association President Larry Cosme told GovExec that a lack of resources and communication systems are a part of the problem.

"I think it’s important these agencies prioritize these assessments and, clearly, do them as soon as possible," Cosme said, adding they should also "call for additional reinforcements." More personnel, he said, would boost the safety of agency employees and park visitors as officers could travel in teams. Agencies should also boost resources for communications equipment, Cosme explained, so officers can always contact their bases or other law enforcement entities for backup, GovExec reported.

The House Natural Resources Committee hosted a hearing Wednesday on “Protecting Federal Employees and Ending the Culture of Anti-Government Attacks and Abuse.”

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